Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TUESDAY TIDBITS: Perfection in Passing

By TJ Troup
Russell Wilson
The NFL uses a mathematical formula to determine a passer's efficiency. There are times when you see a quarterback continually complete passes in a game and the graphic on the screen tells you his passer rating and it is a no-brainer—the visual and the math coincides. When a passer has a rating of 158.3 that is the highest he can go; meaning perfection.

Russell Wilson of the Seahawks achieved this rating on Sunday in the road victory over the Lions. Have been asked many times to explain the passer rating, and the simple answer is we want our QB to complete as many passes for as many yards for as many touchdowns as possible with no errors (incompletions/interceptions).

The "flip side" of this is the defensive passer rating; the lower the better to help evaluate TEAM pass defense. That last statement leads me to offer the following: if the Lions don't improve their porous secondary they are going to finish last in the NFC North. Entering Sunday Detroit's rating was a disastrous 107.1, and of course after Russell W.'s performance is now worse. There was hope entering this season as the Lions last year had a mark of 84.1, not great, yet nowhere near the bottom. The two years previous they were terrible with ratings of 106.5 in 2016, and 100.9 in 2017.

The Lions record for those three years and the 2018 season so far is 28-27. Would sure like to know what Matthew Stafford is thinking when he actually has time to watch the Lion secondary from the sideline? Before going to the running game, a quick congratulations to Adam T. of Minnesota. Consistent production is an aspect of greatness, and if he continues this season he will join the single-season greats of all-time. Have always enjoyed the running game, and James Conner with his grinding relentless performance on Sunday against Cleveland adds to this legendary rivalry.
James Conner
Pittsburgh & Cleveland are just one of three rivalries that have amassed at least 65 one hundred yard rushing performances. The names that come to mind, of course, are Motley, Brown, Johnson, Harris, Bettis, and now James Conner.

Will end this with a challenge for all of you that read this column. Can you name the other two rivalries that exceed Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland in 100-yard rushing performances?

2018 PFJ Mid-Season All-Pro Team

By John Turney

If you asked me which two receivers I'd pick for my team it'd be Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Jr. since we think they are the best (and most fun to watch) wideouts in the game. But, All-Pro teams are for those who are having the best seasons, all things considered, or half-season in this case not who has the most talent or who was the best over a 2-3 year period. So, at times the best may be left out.

At the end of the season Jones and Beckham will pad their TD reception totals and go to the front of the line, but as of now, we are going with those who have the yards and touchdowns and  the 'eye test' and those are DeAndre Hopkins and Adam Thielen on the First-team and Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill on the Second-team. Hill started out on fire, but teams have taken him away some lately.
Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz were fairly easy. Rob Gronkowski has been nicked by injuries enough to miss out on consideration, but by season's end, who knows, maybe he'll join Jones and Beckham on the year-end team. George Kittle is also an honorable mention.

Terron Armstead of the Saints and Ryan Ramczak also of the Saints are the top two tackles (left and right) and the Falcons Jake Matthews and Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon follow them. Seems like everyone talks about Andrew Whitworth but the speed rushers give him trouble and though he's only given up two sacks, he's had several other big pressures allowed and if memory serves a sack or two not credited to him by other penalties. He's still good, but his teammate Havenstein is having the better year and is an honorable mention.

Matthews is the only one of the four First- and Second-teamers to allow a sack or be called for holding (he's allowed 1 sack and flagged once for a hold, although Armstead has one false start call against him) but that was no reason to leave him off. He's been excellent this year. Tyron Smith is looking good, too.

Andrus Peat is our top guard so far. Kyle Long won't make it back to the Pro Bowl, he's likely out for the rest of season or at least an extended amount of time.  So, he will miss out on post-season honors but in the first half, he's been impressive to us. More of a grinder than the others, and he's been beat o couple of time, but he had some real push, something the Bears line lacks without him

The Second-team guards are Rodger Saffold and solid standby Zach Martin. Martin, like Long is nicked and we almost went with Larry Warford but thought maybe three Saints on the line might make us look biased. Saffold is as good as any guard in the league on the move—screens, wide receiver screens and so on. Warford and Martin would be better driving players off the line of scrimmage.

 David Andrews of the Patriots puts on a clinic week after week and the Jaguars Brandon Linder has size and strength but is a hair less of a technician than Andrews—both are great.

Pat Mahomes is an easy pick. Drew Brees edges Jared Goff  for the Second-team. After the showdown next Sunday, maybe we will choose differently, but now Brees is #2 and Goff #3.
We are picking two running backs and not a flex player, though so far, for all intents and purposes the "flex" position has been a second running back. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott and the top two followed by Kareem Hunt and James Conner.

Kyle Juszczyk is our fullback and his backup is James Develin in a dying position. Calvin Ridley of the Falcons and Golden Tate of the Lions are our third receivers (non-starters). Ridley has 6 touchdowns and Tate totals over 500 yards receiving so far.

Our third down back specialist is James White of the Pats who is putting up amazing numbers in his role. He's back by Tarik Cohen of the Bears.  Chris Thompson would get more consideration but he keeps getting hurt. Was on track for this spot last year but missed six games and has missed time this year, too.

Our defensive line is composed of Cameron Jordan as a 4-3 end, JJ Watt as a 3-4 end, Aaron Donald as a rush tackle and D.J. Reader as a nose tackle. Jordan rushes the passer, plays the run, moves around and even will stand up as a backer when the Saints show a 3-4 scheme. He has 5 sacks and just 2.5 run stuffs but he's part of the best run-stopping team in the league by a wide margin and he beats out Lawrence, by a hair not on stats, but the ole' eye test. Reader is one of the big, big men who specialize in run stuffing but Reader (2 sacks) can even get some push in the middle, of course it helps when Watt and Clowney are outside putting pressure on.

Watt is Watt. Back to form and in contention for Defensive Player of the Year with 8 sacks, 5 stuffs, 4 forced fumbles and a pair of batted passes. Donald is the front-runner now for the DPOY, at mid-season he's on pace for 20 sacks which would smash the record for a defensive tackle.

Their Second-team backups are DeMarcus Lawrence of Dallas as 40 end, Akiem Hicks of the Bears (edges Michael Brockers) as a 30 end, Geno Atkins of the Bengals (edges Fletcher Cox) and Snacks Harrison who just got traded to the Lions. Harrison has 5.5 run stuffs this season so far and is always solid versus the run. Lawrence in addition to his 5.5 sacks has 8.0 run stuffs, showing he's not the only rush end who can make run stops in the backfield. Chandler Jones also has been good (6.5 sacks, 3 FF) in a bad situation in Arizona and Danielle Hunter is playing great in Viking land, give them honorable mentions as well.

Our 3-4 OLBer, rush backer or whatever you want to call it is Von Miller on the First-team and Khalil Mack on the Second-team. Mack has been nicked of late and Miller is on a roll. Preseason we picked Mack to be the Defensive Player of the Year. Unless he has a monster second half he won't even be close. T.J. Watt is the honorable mention here.

Luke Kuechly and the Ravens C.J. Mosley are the 4-3 MLB and 3-4 ILB respectively. Followed by Bobby Wagner and the Packers inside backer Blake Martinez.  We've seen Martinez miss some players, make a few errors, but in this era who doesn't? Defenders play with one arm tied behind their backs and Martinez does make quite a lot of big plays, so we put him on the Second-team. Kuechly and Wagner are both machines. Jaylon Smith is coming on, finally healthy (and finding the ball!), but not enough to supplant the big two 'Mikes'.
Lavonte David is our outside linebacker. Since he entered the NFL in 2012 he's made 85.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage other than sacks, by far the most in the NFL in that span. He has a knack for getting into the backfield and stopping runners for losses. Some players just have instinct and David has it. He has 8.5 stuffs this season. 

Kiko Alonso edges Demario Davis for the backup spot. Alonso has made lots of plays in pass defense this year. He has two picks, 4 passes defensed to go with 76 tackles and three forced fumbles. He's not a perfect player in terms of run stopping, but in this era, playing coverage is more important. Davis is playing well, too and if he keeps it up he's Pro Bowl bound. Darius Leonard, the Colts rookie OLBer is an honorable mention he has 88 tackles (5 are stuffs), 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles and is a top contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

It's been a hard year so far for corners. There isn't a handful that sticks out like last year. So, we are going with Morris Claiborne of the Jets and Patrick Peterson of Arizona. Peterson is rumored to be on the trade block and he'd be a great addition to any contender. 

Denzel Ward and  Richard Sherman are our Second-teamers. Ward, a rookie, is making an impact like Marshon Lattimore and TreDavious White but is doing it in Cleveland, so it's harder to notice. Sherman is another one who's nicked but has not been tested too often this year and when he is, he's passed the test. Bryan Jones is an honorable mention, we just want to see him more in man coverage. 

Budda Baker is a beast. He has 72 tackles (8.5 are stuffs) 2 sacks, 2 fumbles recovered—one a scoop and score, and one pass deflection as an in-the-box strong safety. John Johnson III of the Rams is the best defender on that team not named Donald. He plays linebacker in the Rams alternate base defense (when ILBer Cory Littleton plays OLBer) had 3 interceptions (good for a guy who spends a lot of time in the box) and 5 other pass defenses. He does take a poor angle from time to time and misses a tackle but we always have to keep in mind the offensive guys get paid, too.

We are going with D.J. Swearinger as the First-team pick. He's been a terrific playmaker this year and is a fine student of the game. Harrison Smith has come on lately and earned Second-team spot. We were down on the Viking defense early as Smith and others were making errors. Now, Smith is making plays. He has 3 picks and 3 sacks and has forced a fumble and the Viking defense is coming on as a result. It will be interesting who has the best second half Swearinger or Smith to take the year-end crown. Adrian Amos is the lone honorable mention, he was our top free safety for the first few weeks, but Swearinger and Smith came on strong.
Graham Gano and Josh Lambo are our First- and Second-team kickers. We love Justin Tucker, but he will have to have a better second half of the season to top these two. Jason Myers of the Jets is also having a good year. It does bother is that Gano has missed a couple of PATs but his 63-yarder made the difference. We may be shorting Lambo, though, who is perfecto on the season, FG and PATs.

Dustin Colquitt is the top punter and leads the NFL in 'Net Punting Yards Over Average" which is the NFL's punting stat that measures punters to the league average. The usual leader in that stat Johnny Hekker hasn't had a great season (for him). His net average is 39.9 (matching the career low of his, set as a rookie) and has had a punt deflected. Still, he's a weapon. He's always a fair bet to convert a 4th down on a fake and his punts are finding the turf inside the 10-yard line more often lately. He also filled in for Greg Zuerlein as a kicker when GZ was down with an injury.

For the Second-team we chose Michael Dickson who has a 42.5-yard net average, is 5th on the "NPYOA" stat and like Hekker can convert a first down when needed but unlike Hekker he can do it from his own end zone. And can dropkick on kickoffs. So there is that.

Jakeem Grant or Miami and Cordarrelle Patterson of the Patriots are our best and second-best in kickoff returns. Grant is averaging 32.3 yards per kick and has a touchdown and is leading the NFL in kick return yardage. Patterson is averaging the same but only has 12 returns of this writing, edge to Grant right now.

Tyreek Hill is the top punt returner but needs some more returns if he's going to lead the NFL but his explosiveness makes him tops. Andre Roberts is our Second-team pick and our honorable mention is  Jakeem Grant who is a double threat in kick and punt returns. 

Cory Littleton has blocked two punts and deflected a third. One has to go back to Nolan Cromwell in 1987 to find a better season (3 blocked punts) and that one was marred by the scab games. In the last two seasons Littleton has 4 blocked punts one deflection and one super near-miss. He knows how to defeat the punt protection, that's for sure. Joseph Jones is second in the NFL in special teams tackles and has a punt block to his credit as well. He has a great shot at being in the Pro Bowl as a special teams player if he keeps this kind of production up.

MVP—Pat Mahomes, then Gurley as runner-up
OPOY—Todd Gurley, Adam Thielen as runner-up
DPOY—Aaron Donald, then JJ Watt as runner-up

We will revisit this after Week 17. Until then, tell us where we screwed up in the comments section.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Davante Adams Shines for Green Bay

By Eric Goska
Win, lose or draw, Davante Adams continues to shine for the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers came up short for a third time this season, falling 29-27 to the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum Sunday. Had Green Bay not fumbled away the football in the closing minutes, it might have become the first team to defeat the Rams (8-0) this season.

Take away that turnover and Adams would likely have returned to the field for one last push. It’s hard to imagine the fifth-year receiver out of Fresno State not contributing in some important manner on what could have been a sweet finish for the underdogs from Wisconsin.

While the Packers (3-3-1) continue to frustrate, Adams excels. Ten months removed from having signed a lucrative $58-million dollar, four-year contract extension, Adams is more than holding up his end of the deal.

Adams grabbed five passes for 133 yards in Los Angeles. Though he did not reach the end zone, three of his catches stretched for 20 or more yards and four moved the chains.

His first grab, a 48-yarder down the sideline, set up Green Bay’s first touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by running back Jamaal Williams. His second catch, a 9-yarder, was the first play of a drive capped by Mason Crosby’s 53-yard field goal early in the second half.

Adams’ third effort, a 41-yard, middle of the field jumper, set up running back Aaron Jones’ 33-yard scoring run. His final two receptions of 15 and 20 yards combined to carry past midfield from where Aaron Rodgers found Marques Valdes-Scantling on a 40-yard scoring toss to forge a 27-26 Packers’ lead with eight minutes, 50 seconds left.

Green Bay, of course, couldn’t maintain that edge. Greg Zuerlein knocked through a 34-yard field goal to send the Rams in front 29-27 with 2:05 to go.

Still, with that much time and needing only a field goal, the Packer were very much alive. They were, that is, until Ty Montgomery chose to return rather than down the subsequent kickoff in the end zone, a decision that resulted in the game’s only turnover.

From there, the Rams ran out the clock while the Packers’ most productive receiver remained on the sidelines.
How productive is Adams? He’s on pace for a career year. He leads the Green and Gold with 52 receptions for 690 yards and six touchdowns.

Those 52 catches are the most by a Packer in the first seven games of a season. Sterling Sharpe, with 50 in 1993, had held the record.

Adams has snagged 5, 8, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 5 passes. He’s led the team in every game except the opener in which Randall Cobb had nine.

Pick a receiving category and Adams is likely at the top. He’s No. 1 in targets (78), 20-yard receptions (9) and receiving first downs (29).

Projected over 16 games, Adams' numbers swell to 119 catches for 1,577 yards. Both totals would be team records.

Adams has been particularly busy in October. He amassed more than 125 yards receiving in each of the last three games.

James Lofton is the only other Packer to have hit or exceeded 125 in three straight games in the same season. He did so in 1984.

Adams’ output this season is not only impressive, it also highlights how his career has progressed. His seven-game totals in his first four seasons were: 2014 (17-188-2), 2015 (30-308-0), 2016 (40-424-5) and 2017 (30-351-5).
No. 17 has now played in 66 regular-season games for Green Bay. In that time, he has caught 289 passes.

Only two other Packers accumulated more in their first 66 games: Cobb (297) and Sharpe (294).

For Adams, who won’t turn 26 until Christmas Eve, the future is as bright as the California sun. Expect the Packers to continue to lean on him as they battle for an opportunity to play in January.

Seven Inning Stretches
Packers players with the most receptions in their first seven games of a season.

No.      Player                      Year      Yards          Avg.    TD
52        Davante Adams         2018          690         13.27       6
50        Sterling Sharpe          1993          564         11.28       7
47        Don Hutson               1942          915         19.47     13
47        Jordy Nelson             2014          712         15.15       6
44        Don Hutson               1944          632         14.36       5
44        Sterling Sharpe          1992          662         15.05       5
42        Sterling Sharpe          1994          462         11.00       5
42        Edgar Bennett            1994          266           6.33       1
42        Greg Jennings            2011          677         16.12       5

Route 66
Packers with 250 or more receptions after their first 66 regular-season games.

No.      Player                      Years
297      Randall Cobb            2011-2015
294      Sterling Sharpe          1988-1992
289      Davante Adams         2014-2018
288      Antonio Freeman       1995-1999
272      Greg Jennings            2006-2010
262      Bill Howton               1952-1957
253      Ahman Green            2000-2004
250      James Lofton             1978-1982

Sunday, October 28, 2018

50 Years Ago, Packers Starred in Cotton Bowl

By Eric Goska

Bart Starr threw four TD passes to lead the Pack past the Cowboys 28-17.

Lending credence to the notion that everything is bigger in Texas, the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys in 1968 was their most impressive of the season.

That Green Bay failed to defeat another opponent of similar stature is one reason why that season was a losing affair, the team’s only sub-.500 campaign of the 1960s.

On Oct. 28, 1968, the Packers visited the Cotton Bowl and knocked off the Cowboys 28-17. The win lifted Green Bay (3-3-1) into a tie with Detroit for the NFC Central Division lead and rekindled hopes that a playoff berth might yet be attainable.

For Green Bay, this wasn’t just another victory. It was one last hurrah – a surprising and unexpected turn of events – for an over-the-hill gang bound for the setting sun.

The Packers were well acquainted with winning. From 1960 to 1967, the team went 82-24-2 (.764) during the regular season and won five league championships.

Green Bay, the least populated city to house an NFL franchise, had become Titletown.
Green Bay and Dallas first played in 1960.
The Cowboys were relative newcomers. As an expansion team in 1960, they had failed to win a game (0-11-1).

The futility didn’t last long. The franchise that would become America’s Team turned in winning seasons in both 1966 (10-3-1) and 1967 (9-5).

The head coaches of these two organizations – Vince Lombardi (Packers) and Tom Landry (Cowboys) – had a shared history. Lombardi had served as offensive coach (1954-58) for the Giants. Landry had tutored the defense for New York, first as a player-coach (1954-55) and then in a full-time capacity (1956-59).

Early in 1968, Lombardi resigned from coaching. Phil Bengtson, his longtime defensive assistant, took over. Lombardi remained the Packers’general manager.

No such changes were forthcoming in Dallas. Landry was beginning the ninth year of what would become a 29-year stay with the Cowboys.

Landry was also looking to break a jinx. His Cowboys had never beaten the Packers (0-5) in a game that mattered.

The two most recent losses – coming as they did in the 1966 and 1967 championship games – were particularly galling. Both outcomes were decided in the final seconds, the first after Packers safety Tom Brown intercepted Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith in the end zone with 28 seconds left, and the second after Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr burrowed into the end zone with 13 ticks remaining.

The setbacks stung. But Landry was his usual unflappable self as the upcoming game between the two teams approached.

“Until somebody proves differently,” he said. “The Packers are still the world champions.”

On paper, yes, but the team from the north hardly looked the part. With just two victories – one over the winless Eagles (0-7) and one over the fledgling Falcons (1-6) – the Packers were an aging team destined for a decades-long stretch filled with more failure than success.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, remained unwavering in their quest to reach the top. In opening with six straight victories, they had outscored the competition by 149 points (213 to 64).

Opponents looking to stage a rally were outgunned. In the third and fourth quarters combined, it was Dallas 124 points; all others 28.

This, then, was the challenge awaiting Green Bay. Twenty-six years had passed since the team had last faced an unbeaten and untied team so deep into the season, and that encounter had not ended well as the Bears (7-0) clubbed them 38-7 in 1942.

On the injury front, the Packers would be without guard Jerry Kramer (knee) who doubled as the team’s kicker. His absence forced a reshuffling of the offensive line and necessitated adding specialist Errol Mann to the roster.

The good news for Green Bay: Starr was ready to go. The league’s most valuable player in 1966 had sufficiently recovered from a bicep injury.

“Bart has been passing well,” Bengtson said. “He’s throwing with more zip every day and he will definitely start against the Cowboys.”

Zip, zilch, nada could have described Starr’s first three passes in Dallas on that Monday evening. Not one found its mark.

Lee Remmel, who kept a handwritten play-by-play for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, jotted down a word or two after each of the incompletions. “Wrong turn?” he wrote after a pass intended for tight end Marv Fleming skipped off the ground. “High” and “drop” followed throws aimed at ends Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler.

Starr was dumped – by defensive end George Andrie and linebacker Chuck Howley – for an 8-yard loss on that opening drive as well. It was beginning to look as if those who said the Cowboys were going to prevail because of the law of averages were right.

Green Bay did turn in an occasional big play. Starr hit running back Donny Anderson for 29 yards. Tom Brown intercepted Meredith.

But the offensive numbers after each team had possessed the ball five times were telling. In the game’s opening 25 minutes, Dallas was clearly in control.

The Packers had 67 yards in 20 plays. They ran four plays in Cowboys’ territory. They had three punts, a missed field goal (by Mann from 37 yards out) and a Starr interception to show for their trouble.

The Cowboys were more prosperous with 183 yards on 30 plays. They initiated 14 plays on the other side of the 50. Though they punted twice and suffered the one pick, they scored on an 18-yard pass from Meredith to speedster Bob Hayes and on a 16-yard field goal by Mike Clark.

With halftime approaching, Dallas led 10-0. That bode well for the Cowboys who had won 10 straight when scoring the game’s first 10 points or more (regular season and playoffs).

Starr, of course, wasn’t aware of that fact as he took the field with 5:19 left in the second quarter. He was simply trying to conjure up a score by any means possible.

And score the Packers did. Led by Starr, Green Bay turned the tables on the Cowboys during those final 35 minutes.

Mr. Quarterback and the offense used nine plays to navigate 80 yards on that sixth drive. Starr found Dale for 21 yards about halfway through the advance, then hooked up with him again from 26 yards out for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, Starr fired a pair of touchdown passes to Fleming. The second, a 32-yarder, put Green Bay up 21-10.

In the fourth quarter, Starr connected with Dowler for another TD. It was the fourth thrown by the 13-year veteran which matched his career-best.

Starr completed 14 of his final 15 throws for 204 yards and four scores. Had the current passer rating system been in place at the time, those gaudy numbers would have earned him a maximum reading of 158.3.

Meredith had a rougher go of it. He had his nose broken by defensive end Willie Davis when sacked on the second offensive play of the third quarter. He was later dumped by Lionel Aldridge.

Dandy Don also threw a pair of second-half interceptions. Linebacker Dave Robinson grabbed one and cornerback Bob Jeter got the other to effectively end the game with 2:28 remaining.

The Cowboys’ most costly mistake, according to Landry, occurred with just over 10 minutes remaining. Lee Roy Caffey forced running back Craig Baynham to fumble when the two collided, and fellow linebacker Ray Nitschke recovered.

Two plays later, Starr found Dowler from five yards out and Green Bay went ahead 28-17.

“The big play was the fumble,” Landry asserted. “It would have taken a big break for us (to win) after that.”

The turnover didn’t stop Dallas from trying. It twice reached Green Bay territory in the waning minutes.

Clark blew a 47-yard field goal attempt to end one threat, and Jeter squelched the other with his interception of a pass intended for receiver Sonny Randle in the end zone.

“The Packers are capable of pulling off the big game,” Landry said. “They were just about as good as in any other game we played them.

“It was a must game for them, no question about it. We wanted to win it, but they wanted it more.”

Bengston was buoyed by the victory.

“We’re right back in the race again now,” he said. “I think the confidence we got in beating Dallas, considering the record they have going into action, should give us encouragement.”

Unfortunately for Green Bay, what could have been a season-changing triumph meant little down the road. The Packers won just three of their last seven to finish 6-7-1.

The Cowboys rebounded to win six of their final seven as they ran away with the Capitol Division. Their season then came to an abrupt end after Cleveland stunned them 31-20 in the first round of the playoffs.

Two years later, Dallas finally defeated Green Bay. The team’s 16-3 win on Thanksgiving Day 1970 put to rest the idea that the Packers had the Cowboys’ number.


October 28 at Cotton Bowl

Green Bay           0       7      14      7   —     28
Dallas                  7       3       0       7   —     17

DC – Bob Hayes 18 pass from Don Meredith (Mike Clark kick) [6-80, 3:18]
DC – FG (16) Mike Clark [14-58, 6:31]
GB – Carroll Dale 26 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [9-80, 4:18]
GB – Marv Fleming 3 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [8-78, 3:26]
GB – Marv Fleming 32 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [2-44, 0:47]
DC – Craig Baynham 27 pass from Don Meredith (Mike Clark kick) [5-52, 1:16]
GB – Boyd Dowler 5 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [2-25, 0:44]
GB – Boyd Dowler 5 pass from Bart Starr (Errol Mann kick) [2-25, 0:44]

Friday, October 26, 2018

Rams vs. Colts—October 27th, 1968

By TJ Troup
There have been many coaching rivalries in the history of the league, and of course that will continue. One of the best though for a decade involved two young coaches that set their sights on becoming head coaches, and winning a championship.

Before the game of October 27th is covered there is plenty of background that is vital to this saga. Don Shula becomes defensive co-ordinator for the Lions in 1960 after Detroit's disastrous seasons of '58 & '59.

George Allen was brought to Chicago to work in player personnel in October of '58. Though Clark Shaughnessy would never want anyone attempting to help him coach the Bears defense, Papa Bear Halas has decided in 1960 that Allen should work with the defensive backs besides continuing to upgrade the talent in Chicago.

The first time they are on opposing sidelines is November 20th, 1960 and the Bears pass rush has a tremendous game in defeating Detroit. The Bears falter late in the season, and Shula helps guide the Lions to the play-off bowl in Miami. Detroit and Chicago again split the series in '61, and both teams believe they can dethrone Green Bay in '62. Allen becomes defensive coordinator sometime in '62 (no one is sure which week), and Chicago plays improved defense yet the Lions defense is the talk of the league after they massacre the Packers on Thanksgiving.

Rumor's abound in Baltimore that Weeb Ewbank will be dismissed and his replacement just might be one of these two firebrands. The last time these two men face each other as coordinators the final score is 3-0. No doubt for these men defense rules. Don Shula gets the job in Baltimore and the '63 Colts play improved football late in the season to post a winning record.

The Colts lose twice to the Allen's defense in '63, but much more important the Bears are able to beat the Lombardi Packers twice in '63 and win the championship. Shula turns the tables in '64 and crushes the Bears twice, and also beats the Lombardi Packers twice to win the division title. Green Bay outlasts Baltimore in overtime to end the Colts season in '65, and though the Bears rally after an 0-3 start both men again are back to watching Green Bay play for a title. Shula vs. Allen 1960-62 is 3 wins and 3 losses.

Shula vs. Allen 1963-65 is 3 wins and 3 losses. George Allen believes he should be named head coach of the Bears right now (Halas kinda promised him the job), but when the Rams come calling Allen quickly accepts the job. After winning a contract battle in court Halas then releases Allen to allow him to take the job. Baltimore beats the Rams in Los Angeles 17-3 in a defensive battle in late October of '66 the first time these men square off as head coaches. Allen has done an admirable job of coaching and reorganizing the woebegone Rams during the '66 campaign and one of the highlights is beating the Shula Colts 23-7 in late November. Again both men watch as Lombardi wins another championship.

The NFL is reconfigured for 1967 into four divisions each with four teams with interesting names for the division. The Rams, Colts, 49ers, and Falcons are in the Coastal division. So, these two men know that to face Lombardi and the Packers for the western conference crown they must beat each other during the season. During the regular season, Shula's Colts and Allen's Rams both beat Lombardi in hard-fought games; but what happens when they play each other?

They tie in October and set the stage for winner take all in the Coliseum the last day of the regular season. Shula and the Colts are beaten badly and though they lose just one game during the year, no play-offs. Allen and the Rams are rewarded with a trip to frozen Wisconsin and a play-off loss to Lombardi in his season of destiny. Lombardi retires from coaching, and both men feel they have the team to win it all in 1968.

Though their personalities are very different, their teams are very much alike. That said, let's take a close look at the teams leading up to October 27th. Los Angeles begins 6-0 and allows just 67 points. The Ram defense is led by left defensive end and league Defensive Player of the Year Deacon Jones (a league-leading 22 sacks, though unofficial). The Ram pass rush leads the league in sacks with 51 (tied with Dallas), so Deacon has plenty of help from his cohorts on the line—especially from All-Pro tackle Merlin Olsen, and a linebacking corps that can either blitz or cover. Maxie Baughan at right linebacker is by far the best "weak side" linebacker in the league in '68.
George Allen and Maxie Baughan
Allen's forte is his combination coverages and as such the Los Angeles secondary led by All-Pro right safety Eddie Meador leads the league in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 47.1. Moving the ball consistency in the air against the Rams and Allen is just not going to happen. Allen's defense allows only 3,118 yards all season. The Los Angeles offense is taught to be mistake free by co-ordinator Ted Marchibroda, and be as balanced as possible.
Jack Snow runs the sideline
Roman Gabriel is a budding star and though the Rams run the ball over 500 times during the year, they can strike downfield in the passing game with Casey and Snow. Four Ram offensive lineman go to the pro bowl in '68 and allow just 28 sacks during the year. Shula in Baltimore also has an excellent offensive line and they allow only 29 sacks during the year. The key Colt here is Pro Bowl left tackle Bob Vogel. Though Unitas is injured, Shula much like Allen knows he must have a strong back-up quarterback, and the trade for Earl Morrall is a godsend for Baltimore. The poised and accurate passing veteran also realizes that the offense must have balance and they run the ball 463 times.
Morrall in the pocket
The Colt pass offense much like the Rams can strike downfield as the trio of Mackey, Richardson, and Orr gain 2,085 yards on their 111 receptions. Don Shula just might have one of the best defensive staff's in league history in '68.
Bubba Smith
Bill Arnsparger has a defensive line that also has a strong pass rush(45 sacks) as new left defensive end Bubba Smith begins his quest to dethrone Deacon as the best end in the league. Bubba led the Colts in sacks with 10½ and was Second-team All-Pro. Fred Miller while he is not Olsen is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and a stalwart defender at right defensive tackle. By far the best strongside linebacker (almost always on the left) is "Mad Dog" Mike Curtis. Athletic, quick, and superb at shedding blocks he is a a force all season.
Fred Miller, with the ball, challenges Gabriel
The secondary coached by Chuck Noll disguises coverages, and even uses a rudimentary form of cover 2 long before the coverage becomes vogue in the '70's. Baltimore is second in the league in the defensive passer rating category at 47.5. Left corner Bobby Boyd is the best in the league at defending sweeps, and a master at underneath zone coverage and is ably assisted on that side by Jerry Logan.
Rick Volk
The key man though is right safety Rick Volk who in just two seasons has learned his lessons well and has fantastic range and big play ability. He may be built different than Meador but boy oh boy they both are superb tacklers, and always where they are suppose to be. Both men become the punt returners for their respective teams since they are sure-handed. The kicking game is almost never mentioned, except of course here. Allen and his Rams work hard in this area and have their moments, yet Shula's Colts are the best at kick-off and punt coverage in the league. Bruce Gossett kicks 17 field goals for the Rams, while Michael's kicks 18 for the Colts. This is becoming eerily similar.

The bible for all football fans in August of each year is Street & Smith's magazine, and Bob Oates states the following about Los Angeles (he picks them 1st):  "(B)ut if the Rams are now coming up, Baltimore now has the strongest team it ever had".

In his write-up for Baltimore who he picks second "the Colts yielded fewer touchdowns than any other team in 1967 and finished second to Los Angeles in points allowed." Ok, the background has been given and the Colts are at home with a record of 5-1 having just been upset by Cleveland. George Allen's Rams in their last eleven road games entering this game is 10-0-1.

Ready? Here we go! Los Angeles scores first on a Gossett 19 yard field goal as the Colts stiffened near the goal line. Baltimore takes the lead when Jerry Hill goes over from the one, and later in the quarter Morrall quarterback sneaks from the one. 13-3 Baltimore after one period. Second quarter and Jimmy Orr catches a deep pass from Morrall for 44 yards and a commanding half-time lead. Baltimore's defense shuts down the Ram running game as Mike Dennis off the bench gains only 33 all day against the Colts. The Colt zone coverages will not let Casey & Snow get open deep as they gain only 37 yards on 3 receptions.

Both teams are known for their excellent half-time adjustments on defense—Baltimore allowed 20 points all season in the 3rd quarter, but 7 of those points come from a Bernie Casey 1-yard touchdown catch. The Rams allowed only 27 points all season, but 7 of those came from tight end Tom Mitchell's back-breaking 41-yard catch and run from Morrall. Neither team scores in the 4th quarter as Baltimore wins a game they must 27-10.

Watching and digesting the highlight film of this game shows that the Colt pass rush was the difference with 5 sacks. Curtis in his famous photo is shown leaping in the air and grabbing Gabriel around the helmet in bringing him down. The four Colt lineman were relentless in coming after Gabriel.
Mike Curtis sacks Gabriel by the head
The play though that stands out is Willie Ellison sweeping right and having Curtis strip the ball free. The pigskin bounces up and though Gaubatz grabs at the ball, defensive tackle Fred Miller latches onto it, and runs down the sideline deep into Ram territory to set up one of the early scores. The Baltimore offensive line opens holes all day as Tom Matte gains a season-high 87 yards to keep the chains moving, while Morrall gained 211 yards on his 11 completions. Earl struggled with consistency as he was just 11 of 27 with 3 interceptions in trying to solve the Ram coverages, but his long completions were a key factor in the game. Shula's record now against Allen stands at 8-8-1 since that November day in Wrigley Field in 1960.
Willie Ellison on a scamper
The rematch to end the season is inconsequential since the Bears knocked off the Rams the week before. Shula's Colts finish 13-1, beat Minnesota & Cleveland in the NFL play-offs before the fateful loss in Miami against the Jets. George Allen is fired by Dan Reeves after a 10-3-1 season, but is re-instated when his players demand his return. Allen is rewarded with the game ball from the Pro Bowl on a rainy day in the Coliseum with a roster of 17 Colts and Rams in the win.
Mitchell tosses ball behind his back after a long touchdown reception
The aftermath you ask? The Rams explode to an 11-0 record in '69 including a win in Baltimore, but four straight losses end Allen's season as Los Angeles is beaten on the road in the play-offs in Minnesota. Shula's Colts cannot erase the memories of the Super Bowl and though he has a winning season of 8-5-1 . . . his time in Baltimore is over.

No one and I mean no one would have stated on October 27th, 1968 that Allen and Shula would ever meet in a Super Bowl, let alone with different teams, yet that is exactly what happens in January of 1973—but that is a story for another day.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Comparing J.J. Watt and Lawrence Taylor's Defensive MVP Seasons

Bu John Turney
Credit: David Marquez, YouTube
Both Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt have won the AP Defensive Player of the Award three times each, the most by any players in the history of that award. However, there are other major Defensive Player of the Year awards that are or were recognized by the NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL Official Record & Fact Book, and Total Football:  The Official Encyclopedia of the NFL which is the reference book used by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So, are Taylor's accomplishments in this are rivaled by Watt? Or even surpassed?

Yes, we know, there will be the screams of partisans who will call L.T. the "GOAT" (greatest of all time) which he is. But that is beside the point, really. He can be the premier rush backer in the history of the league but also have his record looked at closely so as to give JJ Watt's accomplishments their fair due.
Let's begin with the AP Defensive Player of the Year.

Here are the vote totals for 1981, 1982, and 1983—
Taylor edged Joe Klecko in 1981 22 to 20 in the vote total. Kelcko's total was likely affected by Mark Gastineau getting 10 votes. Bot Klecko and Gastineau totaled over 20 sacks in 1981 as the Jets recorded 66 sacks and made the playoffs for the first time since the Namath era.

In 1982 Taylor dominated the AP voting with 34 votes and the nearest competitors received 8 votes.

In 1986 Taylor again dominated the MVP and Defensive Player voting. There was no question as to who the best player was, according to the voters.

Now, here are Watt's totals. He was dominant in all three—

So, in terms of the votes, you have to give the edge to Watt, being the overwhelming leading vote-getter and Taylor doing that twice and also winning a close tally.
Now for the other major, recognized awards at the time. For Taylor it was the AP, Pro Football Weekly and NEA (the player's voted)

Taylor was the consensus choice in 1986. In 1981 and 1982 there were other winners preventing a true consensus status for Taylor.

In Watt's era, the major awards were the AP, the PFWA and Sporting News.

As can be seen, Watt swept them all in all three years and Taylor did not.

Finally, here are the stats for the relevant seasons—
Playing different positions does make comparisons somewhat difficult. But Watt's sack totals and stuff totals are impressive. The Giants didn't have good records for run stuffs (tackles for loss) in the first couple of seasons, but from available data they weren't near what Watt did. 

So, does all this make Watt the better player? No. Of course not. Does that give him the edge when looking at who was, at the time, recognized as having the more dominant season? Maybe. It means Watt was more widely recognized in terms of votes and awards in his three great seasons than Taylor was at the time.

We are very aware of "recentism", a phenomenon that gives bias to recent events over things that happened further in the past. However, this is also something called "golden age thinking" which has a bias towards things in the past that causes folks to overrate or "misremember" how things actually were at the time.

Regardless, it could be all moot if Watt wins another DPOY award which is possible, even this season. And in no way are we lessening what LT did. It's just that when we hear "Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt are the only two players to win the AP DPOY award three times" we know that's true but we also know there more to the story and if one looks at the accomplishments of the seasons in question one would have to rate Watt's accomplishments slightly higher.

We look forward to your angry comments!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Big Daddy Lipscomb—As a Linebacker

By John Turney 
Big Daddy Lipscomb was, as most know, a fine defensive tackle. But what most don't know is that there were times during his years with the Colts he would stem to linebacker making the Colts from a 3-4.

It was not often, but then again it was not something that was so scarce that it was not "a thing". 

Here he is moving from the line to linebacker versus the 49ers—

And while we're are on Big Daddy, here his a clip of him running back an interception, showing some good speed—

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

TUESDAY TIDBITS: Gonna Get You Twice

By TJ Troup
This past Sunday three times teams recorded safeties in the game. Luck fumbles out of bounds out of the end zone, Barber being tackled by Coley of the Browns, and Cory Littleton of the Rams blocking a punt out of the end zone. As impressive as Littleton's play was; he falls short of October 21st, 1973 when Fred Dryer sacked two different Packer quarterbacks in the end zone in the same quarter in the Ram victory. Doubt if we ever see any player get two safeties in the same game, let alone the same quarter.
Next up; the Adam T. update. He has 67 catches for an impressive 822 yards so far. How many receivers historically began a year with more than 822 yards receiving after the first seven games you ask? Might have missed a couple, yet here is the list: Charley Hennigan in 1961 with 33-1,044, Crazy Legs Hirsch in '51 with 40-961, Bobby Mitchell in '62 with 39-872, Lance Alworth (twice) with 40-871 in '68 & 35-867 in '65. Just missing making our list is Billy Howton in '56 for the Packers and Jerry Rice in '89.
Since I mentioned a receiver in '62, this coming Sunday marks the anniversary of Y.A. Tittle throwing 7 touchdown passes against the Redskins for 505 yards, and of course, his main target was Del Shofner with 269 yards. Washington plays New York this Sunday, but doubt either quarterback throws for seven scores.

Finally, all of us here at the Journal are doing a story on the season of 1968 since it is the 50th anniversary of that compelling season. Jeff Miller and Joe Zagorski have already written superb stories on AFL games that year. Hopefully, time permits in all of your busy schedules and you will come back on Friday to read about the Shula/Allen rivalry and the game between the Rams and Colts of October 27th, 1968.